I just read Chris Brogan’s piece, The Bare Truth About Social Media, a phrase leaped out at me==how we are “weaponizing” social media. It seems we are at war and social media tools are becoming weapons of mass distraction. Corporations, small businesses, individuals are in ever escalating races for share or the social media space grab. How do we accumulate followers, how do we accumulate likes, how can we “buy” Twitter followers to look more popular, how do we increase our Klout or Kred, how many eyeballs can we get?

It seems that we have taken all that was bad about the old school channels–advertising, the phone, direct mail, email, replacing it with the new, “cooler” channels. Yet now, we can employ masses of technology, we can now paper the world with garbage at the speed of light–and all free! There are no limits! We can attack new markets, new channels, all in the quest of increased engagement. But what happens? Instead of engaging, people are disengaging, they are overwhelmed, pissed off, tuning out.

It’s not social media (or the other tools) that is bad, it’s how we abuse social media. (Yes, this is the “people kill people, not guns” argument–as much as I hate it.)

So what’s the answer?

It’s not new–we knew it decades, if not centuries ago. We just forget. Perhaps, naively, I think caring, quality and consistency still stand above everything. They always have, they always will. We respond to things that create meaning for us. We read/consume/buy from those who create value in every interaction, those we trust and who don’t betray that trust.

But it’s not easy for our targets (perhaps we should not be treating them as targets). They have to sort through the clutter, they have to make an investment in time. They want to do this, because there is value–they can learn, they can be better informed, they can discover. If we are to establish that trust, we have to stop the rush to claim territory, but we have to reciprocate. We have to invest in quality, in time. We have to engage, we have to create conversations and invest in them–it’s in the conversations we build the relationship and value.

Perhaps this is my “turn weapons into plowshares,” piece, it’s not about the tools but how we use the tools. Social media works, just as the phone, mail, email, and other traditional channels. We just have to go back to fundamentals. We have to be clear about what we are trying to accomplish and why. Communicating with customers and prospects through any channel is about creating awareness. It’s about informing and engaging them. It’s about starting a conversation. It’s the start of a relationship and we have to be committed to building that relationship.

It works–not overnight, but it works. Chris makes another great point in the post, “Companies who don’t actually care about interaction with their buyers can ignore this. We’re ignoring you, anyhow.”

Customers and prospects are smart, treat them smartly!

(Thanks for the inspiration Chris–anxious to see your “smart solution.”)